Friday, 4 October 2019

Where have I heard that before?

Listening to BBC Radio 3 the other day I had an aha moment like the one I discussed here  – when I thought I had detected a link between Delius' On hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring and an American folk song. I had initially thought Delius must have been influenced by the cowboy song  Goodbye old paint while he was in Florida, but in the end (having heard a Tales from the stave programme on the Delius piece) I realized there was another reason for the similarity:
The influence I mistakenly suspected was from an American folk song to Delius. Many years ago, when my ability to read music was even more hesitant than it is now, I found the score of Goodbye old paint in a collection  of American folk songs. It wasn't a melody I knew, but the book provided chord symbols and I eventually worked out A tune that fitted the harmonies. But my grasp of the actual notes petered out after the first phrase

When I later heard the Delius piece I thought  AHA. While Delius was living in Florida he must have been exposed to Goodbye Old Paint.

But the BBC has now disabused me of this. The Delius piece was not an original idea (although I've never been a stickler for originality – as I've said often enough in this blog,  here for example); he got it from Edvard Grieg who he was with in Leipzig in 1887...

Grieg's source was the Norwegian folk song In Ola valley, which he included in a collection of piano transcriptions in 1896. But as that radio programme made clear, the atmosphere of the piece was very different. The story behind In Ola Valley is rather Scandi Noir:

More here
The Scandi Noir bit  is  a lugubrious tale about a lost (and ultimately dead) boy. The falling third of Delius' cuckoo represents, in Grieg's piece, a bell tolling. So On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring turns out to be not the direct descendant of Goodbye Old Paint, but the first cousin once removed (the Delius piece via Grieg's transcription, the cowboy song being a direct descendant of the Norwegian folk song).

My more recent aha moment happened 55'35" into an Early Music Show Special: Al-Andalus!
I'm not a card-carrying early music nerd, but in the early 1980s I was working in OUP‘s office in  London, formerly the General Division‘s home, but then the home of a few General Division stragglers working on the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations (3rd edn – the one with the pretty green  cover [and you must not forget the quincentenary colophon on the spine, Best Beloved]). The main body of the General Division (an internal admin  thing that is probably irrelevant to the present structure of OUP and  is of no great import) had moved to Oxford. 
The Early Music Department, working on another quincentenary  book The Oxford Book of Madrigals, were also left in London, and I joined a group of singers who sang from it at the launch party. One of the madrigals we sang was The Silver Swan, which became a favourite of  mine and – as the bass line is so  melodious  as a solo  – my usual audition piece (in the days when I did that  sort of thing).
I  haven't listened to the whole thing, so this little observation may not be news to everyone, but the fact  that the programme was called Al-Andalus is indicative of a quirk of Spanish/Portuguese borrowings from Arabic.

The Berbers who occupied various parts of the Iberian peninsula between 711 and 1492 had Arabic as a second language, and they automatically tacked on the definite article to nouns; this accounts for borrowings that start with al- (algebra etc) or a- {Sp. azucar/Pg açúcar...
[meanwhile the Italian for sugar – as their borrowing came from mother-tongue Arabs – is zucchero. Similarly Sp alcotón/Pg. algodão  but It. cotone, the root (via France) of  our "cotton"]
...) or sometimes just l- (the word lute is derived from words that mean the-oud, the oud being a stringed instrument.
<GUESS likelihood="minimal, but who cares?">
I suspect that Spanish láud may have been influenced by an imagined etymological association with the Latin laus (=praise) as in "praise Him with... stringed instruments", but don't quote me on that; it‘s just supposed folk-etymology. )
In this case the Portuguese preserved the whole al- –  alaude.

Where was I?... Got it, 55'35". I didn't catch the title of that Hebrew song, 'Adonai <something>', but it's strongly reminiscent of the cor anglais tune at the beginning of the second movement of the Concierto de Aranjuez...
I've been there (Aranjuez)... no. Irrelevant self-indulgence.
... and some of the ornaments before the voice comes in are just like the later guitar reprise of the tune.

Time I was doing stuff  outside before it starts to rai.. Bugrit.


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